On why we can’t have a sensible debate about improving gun safety in the United States.

Let’s start with a disclaimer. When I say “the NRA” I’m not talking about the millions of responsible gun owners who practice gun safety, support background checks and other common sense measures to reduce gun deaths, and train their children to treat guns with respect.

I’m talking about Wayne LaPierre and the idiots who believe his endless but totally baseless claims that Armageddon is just around the corner.

Once upon a time the NRA was a low-key group that promoted and taught gun safety. It was honest, necessary work — but it didn’t generate a lot of revenue, either for itself or for its CEO.

In 2015, Wayne LaPierre made $5,110,985.

So what changed? LaPierre figured out the real money lies not in gun owners, but in gun makers. He turned the NRA into the marketing department for weapons manufacturers. He drove demand for their goods by insisting — despite having zero supporting evidence — that first Obama and then Clinton were “coming for your guns.”

The campaign worked a treat. Immediately after Obama was elected, gun sales went up 49%. And the gun makers showed their appreciation for the man whose hysterics had made them rich(er).

Gun money was used to buy off politicians. Trump cost $31 million, but that’s a pittance compared to the profits that will be generated if Congress goes ahead with the cockamamie scheme to turn schools into war zones.

(An aside: In 1999 LaPierre really did say “We believe in absolutely gun-free, zero-tolerance, totally safe schools.That means no guns in America’s schools. Period.” But the quote is out of context. Wayne was talking about preventing students from bringing guns to school, and went on to recommend armed security guards at school entrances. Even that, however, is a far cry from math teachers packing heat.)

Gun money got Spineless Rubio back into robot mode, three times repeating the same nonsense about “people buy into my agenda” when asked if he’d refuse donations from the NRA.

Gun money prevented the elimination of bump stocks, even though their sole purpose is to turn a legal assault rifle into an illegal one.

So how do the Sane & Sensible fight back against this river of money? NOT with debates about the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. NOT with a debate about there being no completely unrestricted rights. NOT with pictures of dead students.

You go after the money.

Of all the things those amazing kids from Parkland have done, pressuring companies to pull their deals with the NRA is far and away the most effective. It’s unlikely to cause a huge drop in sales of NRA memberships. It’s unlikely to affect LaPierre personally. But it’s the first meaningful attempt to cut off the supply of oxygen to the monster the NRA has become.

The next step should be to add a federal charge to the local fees (usually $10–$30) for gun licenses and renewals. The FBI database is expensive to build and maintain. Hospital emergency rooms spend a fortune treating the gunshot wounds of people without insurance. Training all those math teachers to become killing machines won’t come cheap. So it’s only fair that the government recover some of those costs directly from the people who made them necessary.

Let’s call it $100/gun.

If you really believe you need a weapon for self-defense, $100/year isn’t much. Ditto if you’re a hunter. But if you’re a wacko with dozens of guns you’re stockpiling so you can fight off federal troops armed with drones and tanks, it’s going to pinch a bit.

So maybe you buy one less gun. That’s a little less money for the gun manufacturers, and a little less money for Wayne.

And it’s a lot of money for America. There are 300 million guns in the US. A $100 fee would therefore generate $30 billion in revenue, year after year after year.

That would pay for a lot of military parades in front of Trump Tower.

This “usage charge” doesn’t abridge the 2nd Amendment in any way. If anything, it strengthens federal recognition of the right to bear (suitably taxed) arms. It simply redirects money away from LaPierre, who is the main reason we can’t have a sensible debate about improving gun safety.🔷

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(This piece was first published on Medium.)

(Cover: Flickr/David Yamane.)